Reviewed by Janet Toth, NCC, NCSC, LPC, High School Counselor, Charleroi Area High School, Charleroi, PA
“To Infinity and Beyond!” Thank you, Buzz, but not this time. Today, we’re staying a little closer to home.
Gaining quick popularity with the 2023-2024 school year is the Saturn app.
The Saturn app was created back in 2018 with the intent to help students stay connected with other classmates. In the current version of the app, launched in September 2019, students may also view the class schedules of their peers (unless a student makes their schedule private) and post basic notes about homework assignments. Although not new, it has gained newfound popularity with the new school year. After downloading the app, the user creates an account, finds their school, and then the student links their schedule, all with the intent to help the user stay on track and stay connected.
Here are the highlights of Saturn:
Saturn is a mobile app and online school calendar tool. Teens use Saturn to track and manage their classes, homework assignments, and activities, helping them stay organized and connected with their friends and school community. The app operates on a school-by-school basis, meaning students can interact only with other students at their same school.
Users can see what friends are doing in real-time, chat with them, organize events, and share schedules all in one place.
Sounds great, right? Well, like any app, we need to do our homework to truly understand what the app does and how our students are using it.
With its blossoming use, many schools, parents, and cyber experts have been raising concerns regarding the Saturn app.
Here are some of the concerns:
-Students may use the messaging app to cyberbully and harass other kids.
-Students may look at another student’s schedule as a way to know where they are to bully or harass them in real life.
-Individual personal information can be seen by any user.
-Students may post inappropriate content.
-Encourages students to connect to their Snapchat account. What this means is that Saturn will have access to your display name and avatar. (As well as TikTok, Instagram, and Venmo)
-Predators could try to impersonate a new student and have access to users’ personal details and location.
Saturn stated that because of the many concerns that were highlighted in the media, the app was updated with security upgrades on August 23, 2023. The app has strengthened its verification process. Unverified users are not able to view things like class details or student profiles. However, some have questioned Saturn’s verification process, stating it relies on a combination of different processes and signals. Other than school email verification, it is not clear what all of these points are.
If accounts are unverified, they will have very little access to any information. Additionally, an unverified account cannot direct-message anyone. Eventually, if a user fails to verify an account, it is removed.
As for cyberbullying and other inappropriate content, the company states that they enforce a positive atmosphere on the app with their community guidelines. However, like every app and social media platform, not everything will be noticed.
Experts state that Saturn could be a helpful tool in keeping students on track. However, there are other calendar apps that can achieve the same thing without being connected to many, many other students via an app, including the calendar that comes on your phone.
I checked in with some students at our high school to see what their perspective of Saturn was. Most had heard of it. A few were using it. Natalia is a junior who likes to use it to see when class will be over. Aiden, a sophomore, said he uses it to keep track of things. He’s received a few friend requests but has just ignored them. Kayleb, a senior who prides himself on being “in the know,” says he nor his friends use the app. “The app wasn’t even that good! I’m far too busy to be dealing with buffoonery and shenanigans.” That’s quite a review!
What can you do as a parent?
-As always, do your homework, especially to understand the app and its appeal.
-Go through the app with your child. Look at the privacy options that come with the app. It does not have parental controls, but if you have an app that monitors your child’s text messages, email, etc., it will send you alerts about potential issues.
-Remind your child that, like other apps and platforms, everything they post is automatically accessible by the app creators and can be found by many other methods. Additionally, other people can screenshot what they post and share it with others. “They steal your personal information!” Like on all apps, the more you give, the more they know.
-As parents, we should be aware of all apps and social media platforms where our kids are spending time. Continue to sit down with your children to check out their activity on these apps, reinforcing appropriate behavior and reminding them of the risks that come with the use of technology.